#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You

This is #19 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one you might enjoy.


Because much of the time, even most of the time, they didn’t.

And we, confident in both our content and delivery, having put in the time to get it “just right,” convince ourselves that they most certainly did.

They did not.

And they are not stupid or disrespectful or uncaring. They are normal human beings: distracted and self-centered. (I am not cynical about the human condition, I promise you, I just trust the preponderance of the evidence.)

If your message is banal, it will be heard and understood the first time.

If your message has even the slightest intimation of a change it will not be understood. This is not because the change you are proposing is unwieldy or even complicated. It is because as soon as a person hears that any kind of change is being requested of them, millions of years of finely tuned neural mechanisms blast away from the starting gate to fight off the pattern interruption and preserve the status quo.

This is a pre-conscious response, which is why “not understanding” has nothing to do with stupidity, disrespect, etc.

It’s a survival instinct that is disproportionate to the threat because it’s terrible at distinguishing small threats from big ones. It just knows that the status quo equals staying alive and so it goes all in to preserve it.

What’s a thoughtful messenger of change to do against this ancient and reactionary tidal wave?

Be redundant.

As one leader I know used to say, “The first time you tell your team anything, assume that you’ve confused them. You have to tell them at least six more times.”

This is not a scientifically proven model, but simply a way to emphasize the leader’s responsibility to go back to the core message as often as necessary for enough of the team to get it and to get moving in that direction.

Redundancy, it seems to me, is among the least utilized tools at a leader’s disposal. There is so much assumptive arrogance that a “great” change message (even when it’s good news!) will be understood the first time that the leader is left shocked and resentful that he has only sown confusion and frustration in the ranks.

Redundancy is a labor of respect and consideration. It is a commitment to enroll and engage, to involve and to educate. It requires personal contact, team by team if necessary. If it devolves into just another weekly announcement (here we go again…) both the point and power of it have been missed.

If it’s important enough for you to spend the time getting it right, it’s important that it be fully understood. Redundancy is your secret weapon. Use it wisely and then use it again.


background blank business craft

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com